Downtown Buildings Hot Again

February 7, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — Interest in downtown commercial real estate is picking up again, especially on Monroe Center.

Sales activity has heated up recently on the center’s blocks that run east from Ottawa to Division Avenue, and the action is expected to get even hotter within the next few weeks.

Why? Because the city gave Renaissance Zone status to a sizable portion of the former pedestrian mall last fall, and the almost tax-free status of the zone has refocused attention on those blocks.

“I think so, there are significant advantages to it,” said Steve Dodgson, vice president of Dodgson Realty Co., a commercial, industrial and investment real estate brokerage house at 125 Ottawa Ave. NW.

Putting a new convention center up a few blocks north hasn’t hurt, either.

Dodgson Realty handled the sale of two Monroe Center buildings in the zone and near Ionia Avenue. Both transactions closed late last month, but terms, sale prices, and one of the buyers were not disclosed.

Proprietors of The Lenox Room, an upscale night spot that features jazz, rhythm and blues, and urban contemporary music, bought 72 Monroe Center. The two-story building, just east of the former Steketee’s Department Store, has 8,600 square feet and once was a branch office for Old Kent Bank.

The buyers will keep The Lenox Room on the ground floor and add banquet and meeting rooms to the second story.

An investor group bought the former Central Bank building, a three-story, 9,000-square-foot structure at 65 Monroe Center. The partners are planning to have retail on the ground floor and housing on the second and third levels of the building, which was restored in 1996.

The buyer wishes to remain anonymous for now but is expected to come forward soon, as the group has purchase options to more structures on the south side of Monroe Center east of Ionia.

“There is a package of buildings that are being sold and this is one of the buildings that sold to the group that is purchasing all of them,” said Dodgson. “I think that they plan to announce some things shortly.”

One structure not in the package is 49 Monroe Center, just west of the police station and in the zone. Architect, artist and downtown business activist Gretchen Minnhaar owns that building.

“All the buildings, up to her building, are under contract and will be closing. I think ours was the first to close in the package of buildings,” said Dodgson.

Mixed-use developments are also planned for the other buildings in the package.

Key to the granting of the Renaissance Zone status was the announced redevelopment of the Steketee’s building at 86 Monroe Center. Plans submitted by a group led by commercial realtor Ray Kisor featured apartments, a women’s health center, and shops going into the structure that has been vacant since 1997.

Despite an 8-inch water pipe break last week on the building’s top floor that sent up to 90,000 gallons of water cascading through the structure, onto the street and into nearby buildings, the Steketee’s project will still go forward.

Other noteworthy buildings that were included in the zone are the People’s at 60 Monroe Center and the former Michigan National Bank building at 77 Monroe Center, where the Louis Benton Steak House plans to open this week on the ground floor.

Building owners in the Renaissance Zone will be virtually free of all state and local taxes for the next dozen years, and then will be charged an increasing percentage of those taxes for the following three years.

Although not in the zone, 96 Monroe Center recently changed hands. Steve and Audrey Westdrop, owners of the Grand Management Group, bought the four-story building just to the west of Steketee’s. In addition, the Grand Rapids Art Museum will build its new home on the south side of Monroe Center between Monroe and Ottawa avenues.           

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